Sunday, February 25, 2007

That's Good Soup!

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence--as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
--Isaiah 64:1-3

Luke 4: 1-10

One thing to note about these temptations: they are all temptations to power. "Turn this stone into bread," the devil says. I know you are hungry. Use your power to show what you can do. The temptation is to eat; and the temptation is to be powerful.

Jesus turns it away with a word from scripture; from Deuteronomy, the restatement of the law after the Exile, the statement of identity, as Walter Brueggeman identifies it. The same book which gives us the central liturgy of identity and remembering, more poignant because it appears after the Exile and the Return: "A wandering Aramean was my father..." So the devil tries again: worship me, he says, and the world is yours. It is mine to give, and the power over it all I give to you. And again, Jesus answers with Deuteronomy: "You are to pay homage to the Lord your God, and you are to revere him alone." There is no God but God, and no power but powerlessness. Worshipping God is not a stepping stone to power. It does not make us masters of the universe. It still leaves us in the wilderness, famished after forty days, and only the devil for company. God-forsaken indeed, or so it would seem to us. Jesus knows better.

Finally the devil takes him to the pinnacle of the Temple and now the devil proves he can cite scripture to his own purpose, and the Psalms no less! Jump off, he says, because "it is written, 'To his heavenly messengers he will give order about you, to protect you,' and 'with their hands they will catch you, so you don't even stub your toe on a stone.'" This, of course, is precisely what the zealots say, the fundamentalists today: every word of scripture is true, literally true, and it can be trusted! So what is wrong now?

It is still a temptation to power, and for the third time, Jesus answers from Deuteronomy: "' You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.' " The devil has nothing but temptations to power; having exhausted those, he is defeated for the time being, and leaves Jesus alone. "Then," says Matthew, "the devil leaves him, and heavenly messengers arrive out of nowhere and look after him."

St. Bonaventure said that after the long fast of our Lord in the desert, when the angels came to minister to him, they first went to the Blessed Mother to see what she had on her stove, and got the soup she had prepared and transported it to our Lord, who relished it the more because his mother had prepared it. Of course.
--Dorothy Day

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